Magical capitalism

by mort

This little gem is buried in the excellent, but covering much more conventional territory, piece by Michael Lewis on the financial meltdown of Iceland:

Alcoa, the biggest aluminum company in the country, encountered two problems peculiar to Iceland when, in 2004, it set about erecting its giant smelting plant. The first was the so-called “hidden people”—or, to put it more plainly, elves—in whom some large number of Icelanders, steeped long and thoroughly in their rich folkloric culture, sincerely believe. Before Alcoa could build its smelter it had to defer to a government expert to scour the enclosed plant site and certify that no elves were on or under it. It was a delicate corporate situation, an Alcoa spokesman told me, because they had to pay hard cash to declare the site elf-free but, as he put it, “we couldn’t as a company be in a position of acknowledging the existence of hidden people.” …

There’s something gorgeous in the idea of mixing all the industrial imaginery with talk of elves, and a government backing the whole venture. It’s pure Tolkien symbology, after all.

The worst case scenario happening right now in Iceland seems to be inspiring some nice examples of reporting. Here’s another good piece on the subject. Also, I’m halfway through Michael Lewis’ Liar’s Poker and I can say he’s really gifted for telling vivid, hyperentertaining tales from the trenches. Recommended.